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S. Korean president says his nation can’t rely only on US for security

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 15, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — In vowing to prevent a new war on the divided peninsula, President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that South Korea needs to do more to ensure its security.

The liberal leader, who took office on May 10 in a snap election, stressed that Seoul will work “very closely” with its longstanding U.S. ally to resolve the growing threat from North Korea.

“Still, we cannot rely only on our ally for our security,” he said in a televised speech to mark the anniversary of the country’s independence from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

“When it comes to matters related to the Korean Peninsula, our country has to take the initiative in resolving them,” he said. “Without the consent of the Republic of Korea, no country can determine to take military action.”

“The government will do all it can to prevent a war from breaking out,” he said. “No matter what twists and turns we undergo, the North Korean nuclear problem must be addressed in a peaceful manner.”

Moon insisted that position did not represent a break with the United States, which backed South Korea in the 1950-53 war against the communist-supported North.

The fighting ended with an armistice but not a peace treaty, leaving the rivals separated by the world’s most fortified border.

The U.S. maintains about 28,500 servicemembers in the South and offers its ally as well as nearby Japan protection under its so-called nuclear umbrella.

But fissures have emerged as President Donald Trump hardened his rhetoric and North Korea demonstrated rapid progress in its nuclear weapons program.

Fears that the U.S. may try to launch a pre-emptive attack or that threats may lead to accidental conflict have prompted calls for the South to step up development of its defenses.

Moon, a 64-year-old former human rights lawyer, has ordered a vast array of military reforms.

He also asked Trump in a phone call earlier this month to support changing agreed-upon guidelines to allow the South to develop more powerful ballistic missiles.

Seoul may develop missiles with a range of up to 500 miles and a payload of up to 1,100 pounds, according to a bilateral agreement.

Moon wants to expand the payload to about a ton, which would help efforts to destroy North Korean bunkers, the Yonhap News Agency has reported.

He also has called for speeding up the long-delayed transfer of wartime operational control from the U.S. to the South Koreans.

South Korea has about 625,000 regular troops who are vastly outnumbered by the 1.3 million-strong North Korean army.

But while the numerical gap is wide, the South and the United States are believed to enjoy superior military technology, training and logistics.

U.S. and South Korean military leaders stress the importance of interoperability between the two allies, underscored by the frequently cited slogans “ready to fight tonight” and “katchi kapsida,” Korean for “we go together.”

Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, recently praised the South Koreans and said the two militaries were closer than ever. He pointed to the fact that many units are combined, with South Korean and U.S. troops working together.

“This is a very capable ally,” he said Monday during a joint press conference in Seoul with visiting Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We have systems we have to work through like we would with any ally. This is someone who’s carrying their own defenses,” said Brooks, who also leads Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during his first official visit to the Army's Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea, June 13, 2017.
SEAN HARP/U.S. ARMY

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